BBC Three's Life On Death Row: Love Triangle Is Your New True Crime Obsession
The Debrief: We speak to Francine Shaw, the director of the new 8-part documentary about the real life murder of Heather Strong - a crime for which Emilia Carr is currently on death row for
In 2009, 26-year-old Heather Strong from Florida, disappeared, leaving behind her kids, her ex-husband and her family.
Just over a month later, her remains were found near a storage trailer belonging to the family of Emilia Carr, the 24-year-old girlfriend of Heather's ex-husband Josh. Emilia was convicted of the murder of Heather, and was, until recently, the youngest woman on death row as a result.
However, Emilia claims that she didn't do it.
She maintains that Heather was her best friend.
Is Life On Death Row: Love Triangle a true story?
It's the Heather Strong case that is the subject of BBC Three's Life On Death Row: Love Triangle, a new 8-part docu-series that's set to be released on the website over the coming week. I'd strongly advise you not to Google the case until you've watched the series.
Each epsiode is around ten minutes long and is released with additional evidence; a phone call to 911, a confession letter, further interviews with law enforcement. It's gripping, plot-twisty and super compelling.
'In such a small community, neighbours and friends all had their suspicions when Heather went missing, but no-one could be sure about anything until her body was found,' explains Francine Shaw, the director of the docu-series who spent time on the ground putting together a full picture of what happened.
According to Francine, the local community was rocked by the murder. 'People who knew Heather, even customers in the diner where she worked, were all very upset by what happened. Others were upset by what happened to Emilia.' She says, painting a picture of a community torn apart.
Although Francine had no trouble speaking to Emilia and the law enforcement individuals who worked on the case ('both wanted to get their point across') for the film, she struggled to find some of they other key players. 'The world in which Heather's murder took place is peopled by those who don't necessarily live conventional lives, some are very poor.' She explains. 'Many people in that part of Florida don't have money for computers, or have pay-as-you-go mobiles which they can only afford to top up once every six weeks.' Others just weren't willing to talk; Emilia's sister for example, wouldn't speak to the team until the very last day when they were literally packing their cases to leave.
The docu-series itself benefits from seemingly endless filmed and recorded footage. Emilia and Josh's interrogations are all caught on tape, calls to police: ditto. Francine agrees this helps the value of the film enormously. 'The footage gives the series an immediacy it wouldn't have had if we had just relied on interviews.' She explains. 'As a result the experience feels much more authentic.'
Having filmed and recorded evidence too helps the audience come to their own conclusions about the stories (and there are many) that are being told by various people thought to be involved. The difference between what key players are saying to Francine on camera compared to what they say in old recorded footage is startling.
Is Emilia Carr guilty?
Emila Carr, in her interviews with the camera, seems personable and approachable. She looks much younger than her now 30 years, and is pretty with dark hair and michievious eyes. Only her teeth show signs of not being looked after which, coupled with her orange jumpsuit, are the only indicators that she's not a normal girl living a normal life in normal, everyday society.
In the very first episode of Love Triangle, Emilia is referred to as both a 'sociopath' and someone wrongfully convicted for a murder she didn't commit. 'It was fascinating interviewing Emilia for all sorts of reasons.' Francine says. 'She is very bright and articulate, her IQ is estimated to be 126, which is very high.' Does Francine think she is a sociopath? 'I would encourage people to watch the series and make up their own minds.' She says.
There's been a huge rise of true crime media in recent years. Podcasts like Serial and docu-series like The Jinx have given way to runaway successes like Making A Murderer and The People vs OJ Simpson. Upcoming true crime commissions include CBS's look at the JonBenet Ramsey murder case from 1996, due to hit TV later this year.
A big criticism of the publics' rising interest in true crime though, is that the victims themselves are being forgetten in lieu of a sensational story. Earlier this year, the family of Hae Min Lee, the victim at the centre of the case covered in Serial, slammed listeners for taking the case lightly. 'Unlike those who learn about this case on the internet, we sat and watched every day of both trials – so many witnesses, so much evidence,' they said.
For Francine then, it was important to make Heather, her character and her history, a key part of Love Triangle. 'I wanted to make Heather into a person, rather than "the victim"' she says. 'I spent a disporportionate amount of time tracking down Jennifer, the waitress who knew Heather at work because I wanted there to be people in the films that could speak for and about Heather and for the audience to understand who she was.' Francine has also showed the film to Heather's mum who is 'very pleased' with how her daughter is portrayed.
What is our obsession with true crime at the moment? Many speculate that it's our way of dealing with an increasingly overwhelming world through means of escapism, much like the purpose Gothic Literature served in the late 1800s. We can handle watching terrible things in a true crime documentary and we can transfer our fears over things out of our control (ISIS, Donald Trump) over on to it.
'True crime well told can offer insight into dark psychological worlds.' Francine says. 'Perhaps there's something about them that can help us make sense of our moral universe. There's a mystery to solve; good guys and bad guys and more often than not there is a resolution where some kind of monster is defeated. And then,' she finishes, 'Order prevails which makes us feel, rightly or wrongly, that all is good with the world.'
But of course, in a world such as ours where the subjects of true crime documentaries actually happened in real life, all is certainly not good with the world. Not very good at all.
You might also be interested in:
Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating